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New Android Auto at CES 2023

Google's booth at CES is usually fun and interactive, as well as informative. At CES 2023, Google announced many new features including more ways to keep all of your devices and media under one umbrella. Most significantly, it featured major updates to the Android Auto system.

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Video transcript

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CHERLYNN LOW: In recent years Google has used CES as a place to show off its idea of a world that's Better Together. This is the name of the vision that Google uses, basically saying that anything that is not Apple can play nice together. This year at CES 2023, the company announced some updates, including a recap of how Better Together has fared in progress recently, plus made two new announcements.

So one is partnering with Spotify to build Spotify connect tools into the Android UI. And secondly, it previewed something called ambient suggestions or notifications. And the idea is that, say, you just entered your home and you've been playing music on your headphones, you step into your doorway and you're getting off your clothes and stuff, a Google Assistant will say, hey, usually, you're going to sit on the couch after this, you want to move your music over to your smart home speaker in there.

We checked out kind of a very controlled demo, didn't seem to actually be working, working. And we were told this is a future feature that is coming. No word yet on timing. But it's interesting to see.

Normally, Google has one of the more fun booths at CES, too. One year, they did a, sort of, roller coaster ride. Another, there was just like big ball pits everywhere. This year, it feels a little tame by comparison.

What was most exciting, at least to me were the two luxury cars that were here at the booth, showing off two different things. One-- one was the Volvo EX90 with Google built-in. And the other was a BMW i7 with a new version of Android auto that was first announced at Google I/O last year.

Now, this is actually our first time seeing this version of Android auto in public. The software has been in closed beta. So maybe there are people who have seen it. But this is again the first public demo.

Now, the biggest changes here are that the Android auto UI can now expand or adapt to any size screen. It has a split screen interface now with the right side or the right column being, sort of, an intuitive or more like a place where Google Assistant suggests apps or notifications based on what it knows you do. In our demo, we saw most of the time it was taken up by Spotify, because who doesn't want to look at their jams while they're driving on the six-hour long road trip. But you can swipe from the right to get a list of suggested playlists if you're tired of your songs.

There's also a new row of keys on the left of the screen now. From the top down, the first three will show you, a, your most recently used music app, b, your most recently used navigation app, and c, your most recently used communications app. The fourth on that list will be just your most recently used app, whether it's your calendar or a calculator. Below that sits a shortcut button for the Google Assistant, but you can also access that by using voice commands or a button on the steering wheel.

There are some interface tweaks too throughout Android auto. First of all, instead of a status bar at the top of the entire screen that, kind of, is always a space, Google has kind of move some of these status symbols over to the top left corner. It's also changed up how it's treating notifications, incoming alerts and stuff. So when you get a text message, for example, it'll show up as it usually does on top of whatever's on your main screen. You can with one swipe, sort of, dismiss it but not get rid of it completely. It'll go and live in the right column that I mentioned earlier and kind of stick there until you're ready to deal with a message.

The beauty of this adaptable screen size format is that if you want an app to take up a full screen instead of having that split screen mode, you can just tap the app icon sitting on the left tray and have it expand and be the focus really of your drive. This is interesting to see, especially with an updated version of CarPlay on the horizon. Apple did announce that it's making changes to its automobile interface at WWDC. We still haven't seen it yet. So at least, Google beat Apple to the punch on that front.

That's really all there is out of Google's booth here at CES 2023. If you want the full details on that Spotify connect and the Ambien notifications feature that I told you about, make sure to go to engadget.com for our news articles. And for all the news out of CES 2023, make sure to stay tuned to Engadget.

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